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Freedom Dreams

The Black Radical Imagination

Author: Robin D.G. Kelley   Foreword by: Aja Monet

The 20th-anniversary edition of Kelley’s influential history of 20th-century Black radicalism, with new reflections on current movements and their impact on the author, and a foreword by poet Aja Monet

First published in 2002, Freedom Dreams is a staple in the study of the Black radical tradition. Unearthing the thrilling history of grassroots movements and renegade intellectuals and artists, Kelley recovers the dreams of the future worlds Black radicals struggled to achieve.

Focusing on the insights of activists, from the Revolutionary Action Movement to the insurgent poetics of Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, Kelley chronicles the quest for a homeland, the hope that communism offered, the politics of surrealism, the transformative potential of Black feminism, and the long dream of reparations for slavery and Jim Crow.

In this edition, Kelley includes a new introduction reflecting on how movements of the past 20 years have expanded his own vision of freedom to include mutual care, disability justice, abolition, and decolonization, and a new epilogue exploring the visionary organizing of today’s freedom dreamers.

This classic history of the power of the Black radical imagination is as timely as when it was first published.
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“Based on Kelley’s belief that to make a better world we must first imagine it, this brilliantly conceived and written book recounts the accomplishments of Black activists and thinkers over the past century who have been committed to remaking the world.”
Library Journal

“Few books have had a more profound impact on me as a thinker and as a human being than Freedom Dreams.”
—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of How to Be an Antiracist

“Robin D. G. Kelley produces histories of Black radicalism and visions of the future that defy convention and expectation.”
—Angela Y. Davis

Freedom Dreams was a blast of fresh air in the dark days of 2002, and its reissue will have the same effect today when it’s even more needed. . . . A handbook of dynamic hope.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Not “A Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion

“Robin D. G. Kelley teaches us that dreams of freedom are all we need and not enough. . . . It’s time to read Freedom Dreams again, and again.”
—Fred Moten, author of consent not to be a single being

“A bold and provocative celebration of the Black radical imagination in the 20th century.”
—Laura Ciolkowski, The New York Times Book Review

“Robin Kelley may well be the hippest intellectual in the land. . . . [He] writes unflinchingly of freedom and love, dreams and visions, revolts of the mind.”
—Jason Sokol, The Nation

“From one of the most important thinkers of our time,?Freedom Dreams is a tour de force that opens up fresh modes of knowledge and radical possibilities.”
—Elizabeth Hinton, author of America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s

“Kelley and the Black freedom struggle he chronicles show us once again how to rebuild a politics of desire, of a freedom worthy of the name.”
—Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back

Foreword by Aja Monet

Introduction: Freedom Dreams: From Noun to Verb, Fall 2021


“When History Sleeps”: A Beginning

1. Dreams of the New Land

2. “The Negro Question”: Red Dreams of Black Liberation

3. “Roaring from the East”: Third World Dreaming

4. “A Day of Reckoning”: Dreams of Reparations

5. “This Battlefield Called Life”: Black Feminist Dreams

6. Keeping It (Sur)real: Dreams of the Marvelous

“When History Wakes”: A New Beginning, Fall 2021




Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination by Robin D. G. Kelley

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

Download the readers’ guide.

  1. Kelley acknowledges that in the twenty years since Freedom Dreams was first published, his own vision for freedom has grown. In his introduction, he offers other “paths of the Black radical imagination” (p. xxxii) that he would examine if he were to write the book again today, including queer and trans liberation, mutual aid, disability justice, and decolonization and Indigenous thought. Choose one of these themes as a lens to reexamine one of Kelley’s chapters. For example, how might the concept of disability justice help us to think about reparations in new ways?
  2. In the preface, Kelley writes, “Unfortunately, too often our standards for evaluating social movements pivot around whether or not they ‘succeeded’ in realizing their visions rather than on the merits or power of the visions themselves” (p. xlvii). How would you define success for a social movement? Based on your definition, were any of the movements discussed in Freedom Dreams successful?
  3. Kelley argues that social movements are like poetry and that, through struggle, activists develop “poetic knowledge” (p. 9). How would you describe “poetic knowledge” in your own words? How does poetic knowledge differ from what Aimé Césaire calls “scientific knowledge” or other forms of knowledge?
  4. In the movements that Kelley writes about, what patterns do you see with respect to how gender is (re)imagined in these movements’ visions for the future? What role did the gender binary (womanhood/manhood) play? How did the intersections of class, race, and sexuality challenge and/or reinforce this binary?
  5. Kelley introduces a few “questions” that radical movements have contended with throughout history—the Negro Question, the Woman Question, and the Nation Question. How would you write out these questions in your own words? Reflecting on Black feminists’ criticisms that movements tended to treat all Black people as men and all women as white, what relationships do you think these questions have to one another?
  6. Why did Black Americans feel a sense of “Third World solidarity” with formerly colonized countries around the world? How did this global connectivity influence Black American radical thought?
  7. Kelley writes that Black feminists expand “the definition of who constitutes a theorist, the voice of authority speaking for Black women, to include poets, blues singers, storytellers, painters, mothers, preachers, and teachers?” (p. 154). How does Kelley use the arts throughout this book to support his historical and political arguments? Did Kelley’s book make you think differently about who can contribute to developing political theory and knowledge?
  8. How have the Black radical movements that Kelley writes about used violence (either offensive or defensive) to realize their freedom dreams? Based on reading his introduction and epilogue, what do you think is Kelley’s own opinion about the role of violence in revolution?
  9. What argument is Kelley making about the relationship between the surrealism movement and Black radical social movements? Why does Kelley believe that we should understand surrealism as more than an artistic movement? Reflect on contemporary artistic movements in visual arts, film, television, music, etc. What connections do you see between these artistic movements and contemporary radical social movements?
  10. For this edition, Kelley chose to restore his original epilogue, a short piece of speculative fiction that imagined a revolution led by “Maroon poets.” How does this epilogue reflect the goals and strategies of today’s radical political movements? In what ways do the activists and organizations that Kelley writes about in his introduction mirror the dream he writes about in the epilogue?
  11. Aja Monet’s foreword opens with a description of what liberation looks like to her—in other words, her own version of a “liberated zone” (p. 203). To develop a description of what liberation means to you, think about what sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or feelings you would use to describe your own liberated zone. Where is this zone? Who would be with you? What would they be doing? What would it take to get there?
  12. In his introduction and epilogue, Kelley lists and discusses many revolutionary initiatives happening all over the US and the world. Take a few minutes to research what transformative initiatives are happening in your local community. What kind of “fascist nightmares” (p. xviii) are these initiatives fighting against? What kind of dreams for the future are they trying to realize?

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Freedom Dreams

ISBN: 978-080700703-7
Publication Date: 8/23/2022
Size:5.5 x 8.5 Inches (US)
Price:  $19.95
Format: Paperback
Availability: In stock.
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